Banned Books, Chapter 2

By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 3, 2008

During a week that librarians nationwide are highlighting banned books, conservative Christian students and parents showcased their own collection outside a Fairfax County high school yesterday -- a collection they say was banned by the librarians themselves.

More than 40 students, many wearing black T-shirts stamped with the words "Closing Books Shuts Out Ideas," said they tried to donate more than 100 books about homosexuality to more than a dozen high school libraries in the past year. The initiative, organized by Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family, was intended to add a conservative Christian perspective to shelves that the students said are stocked with "pro-gay" books.

Most of the books were turned down after school librarians said they did not meet school system standards. Titles include "Marriage on Trial: The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage and Parenting" and "Someone I Love Is Gay," which argues that homosexuality is not "a hopeless condition."

"We put ourselves out there . . . and got rejected," said Elizabeth Bognanno, 17, a senior at West Springfield High School, standing before a semicircle of television cameras outside her school. "Censoring books is not a good thing. . . . We believe our personal rights have been violated."

Fairfax County's policy on library book selection says "the collection should support the diverse interests, needs and viewpoints of the school community." But library officials said donated and purchased books alike are evaluated by the same standards, including two positive reviews from professionally recognized journals.

None of the donated titles met that standard, said Susan Thornily, coordinator of library information services for Fairfax schools. Some librarians also said that the nonfiction books were heavy on scripture but light on research, or that the books would make gay students "feel inferior," she said.

Thornily said school librarians have rejected other books that "target minority groups" and would offend African Americans or other nonwhite students. In this case, librarians were concerned about the level of scholarship in the books, many of which come from small church publishers.

"It all goes back to the books and the publishers and the presentation and the research," she said.

Books dealing with homosexuality are often lightning rods for debate at school libraries. The American Library Association, which "celebrates the freedom to read" during Banned Book Week every fall, lists three gay-themed books in its 2007 top 10 banned or challenged books.

The list was led by "And Tango Makes Three," a tale of two male penguins who become companions at the Central Park Zoo and try to hatch an egg-shaped rock together. Last spring, a parent tried unsuccessfully to have the book removed from shelves in Loudoun County schools.

The Focus on the Family initiative, "True Tolerance," is not promoting censorship; it's trying to fight it, said Candi Cushman, education analyst for the group, who flew from Colorado for the event.

"We hear . . . more and more that homosexuality is being promoted in schools," she said. "The word tolerance is often used, but a faith-based viewpoint is belittled or ridiculed."

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